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Heligoland during World War I.

Heligoland (in German, Helgoland and in North Frisian, Lun, Hlilnj) is a small, carfree German island in the North Sea. It is triangular-shaped and approximately 2 km long, though a smaller island east of it is usually also included.

An ex-British possession, the islands (population 1,650) are located in the Heligoland Bight or German Bight in the south-east corner of the North Sea. They are approximately two hours' sailing time from the mouth of the river Elbe.



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Heligoland is located 70 km from the German coast line, and actually consists of two islands: the populated 1.0 km² main island (Hauptinsel) to the west and the Dne ("dune") to the east, which is somewhat smaller at 0.7 km², as well as lower, surrounded by sand beaches and not permanently inhabited. They were connected until 1720, when the natural connection was destroyed by a storm flood. The highest point is on the main island, reaching 61 meters from sea level. The two islands are part of the district Pinneberg of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. The main island has a good harbour and is frequented mostly by sailing yachts.


The island of Heligoland is a geological oddity; the presence of the main island's characteristic red sedimentary rock in the middle of the German Bight is unusual. It is not known to form cliffs anywhere else along the North Sea coast. The formation itself is from the early Eocene geologic age. It is younger than and layered on top of a much thicker bedrock of white chalk, the very same which is well known to form the white cliffs of Dover, and cliffs of Danish and German islands in the Baltic Sea. In fact, a small chalk rock close to Helgoland, called the "whitte klippe" (white cliff) is known to have existed within sight of the island to the west till the 18th century, when storm floods finally eroded it to below sea level. Helgoland's rock is significantly harder than the postglacial sediments and sands forming the islands and coastlines to the east of the island. This is why the core of the island, which a thousand years ago was still surrounded by a large, low-laying marshland and sand dunes and separated from coast in the east only by narrow channels, has remained to this day, although the onset of the North sea has long eroded away all of its surroundings. A small piece of Helgoland's sand dunes remains — the sand isle just across the harbour called "die Düne" (the Dune), which today holds the air strip.


The German Bight and the area around the island is known to have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Tools made of flint have been recovered from the bottom of the sea surrounding Heligoland.

In AD 697, Radbod, the last Frisian king, retreated to the then single island after his defeat by the Franks. By 1231 the island is listed as the property of the Danish king Valdemar II. From then until 1714 ownership switched several times between Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig, with one period of control by the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. In August 1714 it was captured by Denmark, and in 1807 it was seized by the British during the Napoleonic wars.

Britain gave up the islands to Germany in 1890, and gave up their interests in Madagascar to the French, in return for those countries quitting their claims to the African island of Zanzibar (now a part of Tanzania), largely so the British could intervene there to suppress the slave trade. A "grandfathering"/optant approach prevented the Heligolanders (as they were named in the British measures) from forfeiting advantages because of this imposed change of status.

Under the German Empire, the islands became a major naval base, and during the First World War the civil population was evacuated to the mainland. The first naval engagement of the war, the Battle of Heligoland Bight was fought nearby in the first month of the war. The islanders returned in 1918, but during the Nazi era the naval base was reactivated. During the Second World War the islanders remained on the main island, but on 18 April 1945 over a thousand allied bombers attacked the islands leaving nothing standing. The civil population was protected in rock shelters, most of the 128 people killed being anti-aircraft crews. The islands were evacuated the following night.

From 1945 to 1952 the uninhabited islands were used as a bombing range. On 18 April 1947, the Royal Navy detonated 6800 tons of explosives in a concerted attempt to destroy the main island. While the military installations were destroyed, most of the island remained. In 1952 the islands were restored to the German authorities, which had to clear a huge amount of undetonated ammunition, landscape the main island, and rebuild the houses before it could be reinhabited.

It is now a holiday resort once again and enjoys a tax exempt status, so much of the economy is founded on sales of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and perfumes to tourists that visit the islands. The islands are also outside the Schengen area. Its inhabitants are ethnic Friesians who speak (besides German) a distinctive Heligoland variety of the North Frisian language(s).


While Heligoland was a British possession about 20 postage stamps were issued between 1867 and 1890. They have the distinction of being the first multi-colored stamps and are still considered attractive. There were up to eight printings of a single denomination and also a large volume of reprints which are known as the Berlin, Leipzig and Hamburg Reprints, respectively. The Berlin reprints are sometimes better quality than the originals. The reprints were done between 1875 and 1895. Consequently many "old" collections contain reprints rather than originals. Some believe there were seven million reprints as compared to the known 1 million originals, of which perhaps half were sold through the post office and the remainder sold to dealers when withdrawn from use. A few printings were never postally sold but nevertheless found their way into the hands of dealers. The stamps were printed by the Prussian State Printing Office in Berlin. They were denominated in the Hamburg Schilling until 1875, when both German Reich and English values appeared on each stamp issue (the Farthing/Pfennig issues). All are embossed with a silhouette of Queen Victoria excepting the four highest values which represent Heligoland escutcheons. Mint stamps of Heligoland are moderate to medium priced but with some running to 1000 Euros (2005) rarities. Some used stamps have brought 4800 Euros at auction and some covers have brought 10 or 12 thousand Euros. This is an inducement for forgery. Because used stamps are often more valuable than mint stamps, forged postal cancellations are plentiful and are the rule on purported high-value items. Because of the many forged cancellations and many reprints collectors of Heligoland stamps are advised to either become expert or rely on specialists; most reputable dealers will not handle them because of the prevalence of reprints and forgeries. The collector who wishes to become expert is advised to acquaint himself with the Michel Deutschland Spezial Katalog and acquire, at least, Helmuth Lemberger's HELGOLAND PHILATELIE. Most of the philatelic literature is in German. See http://www.fritzwagner.com/helgoland/helgoland_stamps_intro.html

Bird trap

Heligoland gave its name to the Heligoland trap, used in bird ringing.

See also

  • Forseti - Norse god whose central place of worship was supposedly there

External link

  • Helgoland - Tourist board (http://www.helgoland.de/engl.htm) — includes an aerial photograph of Heligoland (front) and Dne (back)

af:Helgoland da:Helgoland de:Helgoland eo:Helgoland ja:ヘルゴラント島 la:Heiligland nl:Helgoland nds:Helgoland pl:Helgoland sv:Helgoland


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